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The Test of Time: The Hidden (1987)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTOR: JACK SHOLDER

STARRING: MICHAEL NOURI, KYLE MACLACHLAN, CLAUDIA CHRISTIAN, CHRIS MULKEY, WILLIAM BOYET

Has there ever been a movie truer to its title than THE HIDDEN? Seriously, I never hear people talk about this kick-ass alien/action mashup, certainly not as much as it deserves to be mentioned. Indeed, Jack Sholder’s 1987 follow up to the woefully gauche A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, is not only a major rebounding effort, it’s on record as being the director’s favorite film of his own. We can see why. Deftly melding intense shoot-em-up action, creepy body horror, extraterrestrial sci-fi, dryly dark comedy with a riff on the odd-couple-buddy-cop template (made extremely popular with LEATHAL WEAPON the same year mind you), THE HIDDEN is a hugely entertaining, sparsely dulling, wildly fun time at the movies. It was in 1987, and frankly, as we referee its bout with a 30 year Test of Time below, it still very much is!

THE STORY: The picture opens with one hell of a grabber. A stoic-faced man named DeVries robs a Wells Fargo bank in Los Angeles, shoots the place up, stares right into the security monitor before blasting it off the wall. Then we proceed to get a TO LIVE IN DIE IN L.A. style car-chase set to a pumped-up 80s metal song, DeVries ultimately ramming his black Ferrari into a police cordon. DeVries doesn’t die, despite sustaining a dozen bullet wounds. Why? Because he isn’t human, that’s why. In fact, inside DeVries’ body subsists an alien parasite – a giant, slimy black insectile creature – that has the ability to transfer from body to body, host to host, in order to survive. The only way to kill the sucker is when it’s between bodies, using a special alien gun. And how does the alien transfer bodies? Oh my, through the goddamn mouth!

As the alien-slug moves from host to host, two policemen are assigned to the case. L.A. beat cop Tom Beck, played by Michael Nouri as a picture perfect cross between Chris Sarandon and Steven Bauer, and a young FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan) who we can tell is slightly a bit off. They’re mission is to track down a man named Jonathan Miller, the alien in new human form who stalks the streets of L.A. with a huge boom-box blasting rad 80s shredders. Like, in a diner for example. Or a strip club. Our cops track Miller until the alien transmutes again, to a female stripper (Claudia Christian), then a cute little dog, then another, and another person altogether. Beck’s colleague! It’s f*cking BODY SNATCHERS meets NIGHT OF THE CREEPS meets TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. meets LETHAL WEAPON (Nouri turned down the role of Martin Riggs by the way). And goddamn it I love it!

In the end, we learn that Gallagher had been a similar alien the entire time, but a benevolent one meant to eradicate its malevolent counterpart. Although we knew something was up with Gallagher the entire time, little clues given to inform us, his odd behavior and all, that he isn’t a likeminded alien killer hell-bent on as much human destruction as possible is a nice little wrinkle we don’t often see in movies of this ilk. A pleasant surprise of a different kind!

WHAT HOLDS UP: Honestly, having just re-watched THE HIDDEN again the other day, I can say with the utmost confidence that very little about the film has shown any sort of moldering over the past three decades. It’s so thoroughly engaging, compelling and entertaining all the way around. For me it starts with the fully lived-in L.A. locations and concomitant action pieces set in places like strip clubs, seedy record shops, manikin stores, and the like. The soundtrack of 80s pop-metal ditties perfectly punctuates the action in way that feels cool, fresh and fun throughout. But even beyond the settings and sounds, aside from the brilliant blend of multiple genres and tonalities, three aspects of THE HIDDEN really hold up better than anything else: The Pacing. The Practical FX. The Action!

First up, there truly is never a dull moment in THE HIDDEN. Made in 1987, the flash-bang MTV-editing style of an upbeat tempo is in full effect here. The pacing is rapid, engaging, full of hardcore action and really never lets up for a second. Straight up, this is an all out casino-blitz of carnage, blood-soaked shootouts, car chases, alien body-snatching, hand to hand combat and the rest. It is one thing to make a movie entertaining for its day, but for a movie to retain its unassailable entertainment value 30 years later is a true test of its staying power. THE HIDDEN hasn’t lost an ounce of what made it so damn delicious in 1987!

Like the practical FX, for another example. I can’t front, the first time we see the alien slug thingy slither out of DeVries’ wide birth canal of a mouth…it’s hulking viscous body and slimy antenna twitching…I almost have to look away from the screen. It’s so deeply disgusting. In fact, according to the IMDB trivia section on the film:

The transfer of the alien from DeVries into Jonathan Miller was accomplished by stop-motion photography. During the stops, stage hands would work at stuffing the creature model into the mock head. Actor William Boyett, upon seeing the alien going into "his" mouth, was so disgusted he refused to watch and actually left the room.

Yeah, can’t blame the guy. What’s equally impressive is that you cannot for a second notice the sequence is being achieved through stop-motion. Brilliant work. So too is the finale, where the nasty slug wriggles out of an immolated head, only to be bulls-eyed by Gallagher’s alien gun. Almost entirely practical FX used here, no phony CG or anything flagrant to make you notice the artifice.

Perhaps holding the best for last, what sets THE HIDDEN apart – then and now – is the brutal and bloody level of violent action it boasts. We’re talking f*cking COMMANDO style artillery up in here! The standard is set in the opening bank robbery scene, and carries on consistently throughout. Pistols, rifles, revolvers, automatics, ARs, techs, semis…they’re all locked, loaded and fired to hell! Two prime examples of this come to mind, one inside a manikin warehouse – with our stripper-cum-alien-killer (sexy ass Claudia Christian) clapping the machine gun like Schwarzenegger in his heyday. The other happens inside the jailhouse at the end, ultimately ending with Gallagher lighting up the flamethrower and torching the sumbitch on the other end. Seriously, the level of unremitting gore in the film is akin to a first-rate horror flick, and done so with the stylings of a hardcore action picture. The violence not only holds up, it remains the movies inarguable strong suit!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The gripes and grousing I have about THE HIDDEN are so marginal they really have no impact on the overall enjoyment of the film. But here they are. First, the stock audio-gunfire in the film is so cheesy and generic that it’s hard to ignore. I swear, they must have gone into a well of “free domain” sound FX and picked out every tinny reverberation they could find. Shite sounds like an episode of Bonanza for crying out loud!

Along similar lines, the score in the film is a bit too redolent of the original TERMINATOR. The droning, pulsing sounds of repetition, industrial, machine like, calls to mind too often Cameron’s classic. Again, a minor complaint, but it’s always bugged me. It still does.

Another inconsistency I’ve noticed but really doesn’t bother me is how different the two aliens are in the film. How can Gallagher detect the other alien by sight but the other alien can’t do the same for Gallagher? How can Gallagher seemingly self-heal his wounds when the other cannot? I’ll just chalk it up to the alien being a heterogeneous species.

THE VERDICT: Yup, I love THE HIDDEN as much now as I did when I saw it for the first time many years ago. All of the things that won my heart decades ago still hold true today, namely the splendid blend of multiple genres – action, horror, sci-fi, comedy – the consistently upbeat tempo, the jarring use of mostly practical FX, and last but probably most important, the hardcore level of gory shootout violence. I love the music, I love the L.A. locations, I love the sick car chases, I love the comedic interplay between Nori and MacLachlan, I love Claudia Christian’s supple bosom. My love for the film cannot be HIDDEN!

GET THE HIDDEN ON DVD HERE

GET THE HIDDEN ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: Have you seen THE HIDDEN? Does it hold up?
Source: AITH

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